The country’s 56th National Historic Chemical Landmark was designated October 25 in Cincinnati, commemorating the development of Procter & Gamble’s top-selling laundry detergent Tide.
At the American Chemical Society you can learn all about the struggle to find a combination of chemicals that would clean clothes better than soap, culminating in the new product introduced 60 years ago. Sample quote:
“Prior to the debut of Tide, laundry was washed with soap flakes which provided limited cleaning, dulled colors, and left whites drab. In hard water, soap left a ring of scum around the tub. Tide cleaned better than soaps, and it was mild, allowing it to be used initially to wash dishes as well as clothes.”
There’s also a whole page on the history of Procter & Gamble.
Can you say “phosphate pollution”? Evidently not if you work for the ACS. There is no National Historic Chemical Landmark about the subsequent history of pollution by detergents and what it has cost to deal with it. For that you can Ask Umbra at Grist magazine. If you like your information more exotic or more detailed, check out this handy summary from South Australia (PDF) and this law-school paper from the University of Colorado. (Don’t bother checking NPR’s blog, though.)
And while you’re checking, just remember that the ACS calls itself “the largest scientific society in the world,” not “Procter & Gamble’s PR firm.”